The Bat by Jo Nesbo

The Bat by Jo Nesbo


Detective Harry Hole is meant to keep out of trouble. A young Norwegian girl taking a gap year in Sydney has been murdered, and Harry has been sent to Australia to assist in any way he can.


When the team unearths a string of unsolved murders and disappearances, nothing will stop Harry from finding out the truth. The hunt for a serial killer is on, but the murderer will talk only to Harry.


When I finished reading Jo Nesbø’s last novel – Phantom – back in March this year I put the book down, emotionally exhausted, and wondered how the author could possibly continue his magnificent and iconic Harry Hole series. Would he write another one – a continuation of Phantom – or move away from the detective altogether and give us something new? The answer was obvious for some – and no I hadn’t even considered the possibility! – but Harvill Secker confirmed they would  publish Harry Hole’s first adventure The Bat [Flaggermusmannen] in English for the first time earlier this year.

I have to admit, before picking up the book a few days ago, I had no idea what it would be about or where it was set, I wanted that initial surprise when I turned the first page over and devoured its contents. I was totally blown away when I discovered it was predominately set in my old stomping ground of Australia (Sydney) and even better it included a couple of strong Aboriginal characters severely lacking in literature today.

I’ve since found out that the first two novels in the Harry Hole series are set outside Norway and the main reason why the first two books haven’t been translated into English. I was first introduced to Nesbø when the publishers released the seventh in the Harry Hole series The Snowman, a book that remains in my top 10 of all time to this day.

Harry Hole – or Holy as he’s known in Sydney – has arrived in Australia to investigate the murder of Inger Holter a young and eager backpacker. He is met at the airport by Andrew Kensington, an aboriginal detective from Surry Hills and the pair hit it off immediately. Kensington represents – for me at least – my favourite character in any of the Nesbo books I’ve read and he’ll be a hard one to beat. Full of wisdom, wit and sporting an amazing personality – not to mention a great storyteller – I couldn’t get enough of Andrew and the pairing of the two is remarkably taut and engaging. Hole slowly came alive as their friendship and partnership matured, it was as if I saw him developing before my eyes.

When your forest is so dark you don’t know it yourself, it’s wise not to go on trips of discovery. You can soon find yourself treading on thin air.

Jo Nesbø wrote the book in just five weeks and made the most of his travelling experiences of Australia in the late 1990’s. Spending time in King’s Cross, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and Newtown his enthusiasm for the city and her people his obvious for all to read and he truly captured the essence of the neighbourhoods his characters frequented. The Bat took me back to a time when I was living and working in Australia and I found myself frequently closing my eyes and re-discovering the sights and sounds of Darlinghurst Road, the students hanging out in Newtown and the many outdoor restaurants overlooking the Quay in the heart of Sydney. It made for an emotional read but one I thoroughly enjoyed -it certainly offered another dimension for me while reading. I could close my eyes and imagine walking through the colourful King’s Cross, sitting in a pub drinking a cold schooner of VB or walking up the steps of the opera House on a night out. Magnificent.

For me the book is distinctly aboriginal. Nesbø – mainly through his colourful characters – allows the Aboriginal fables and stories to come to life as Hole learns more about the Australian way of life all the while trying to make sense of the murders. From poisonous black snakes and honey covered trees I found the stories informative and incredibly well told, all that was missing was a didgeridoo soundtrack!

As I’ve already mentioned the partnership between Andrew and Harry is for me worth the admission fee alone and coupled with Harry’s backstory it is a heady combination. Going back to Harry’s roots  as we discover why he turned out the way he did – his drinking, the deaths he caused and relationships lost – I really felt as if I was finally discovering what made him tick. Deep in parts The Bat never fails to amaze as Nesbø keeps the story moving with an array of twists, turns and fluid backstory. We get to see a mixture of emotions from Harry from his sober days to rockier times when he appears to implode. The author really knows how to tick all the boxes and although The Bat isn’t as gory as some of his other books – this does have a very different feel to books like The Snowman – it is without hesitation a classy read.

Complete with an immersive narrative, The Bat pulls you in and never relinquishes its hold until the rip cord is feverishly pulled – and even then Nesbø leaves you breathless waiting for the next round. Translated by Don Barlett – he certainly deserves a mention – he has somehow managed to capture the Australian way of life and attitude effortlessly, bravo Mr Bartlett. Nothing is lost in this translation that’s for sure.

The Bat (Harry Hole 1) is available in Hardcover and Kindle.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (11 Oct 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1846551455
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846551451
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